WHY DID YOU join the industry and become a sales person? Was it to sell through managing your own territory and influencing prescribers, or to simply deliver a list of inflexible key messages with little opportunity to display your initiative? In the past 10 years there has been a huge shift from small, family owned, product linked representatives, to large, matrix managed, faceless entities. A large company 10 years ago had 400 representatives, now you would expect 1000 or more in the UK alone. This begs the question; How can a sales representative drive their business and remain accountable for sales outcomes with large team of people selling the same product to the same customers? This can be a very disheartening prospect for a medical representative who hopes to get noticed and further their career. This isn’t the only option though. Working for smaller to medium sized companies can be very different, and in comparison very personally rewarding. The characteristics of successful people in small and medium companies such as LEO, Merck, Napp, Schering Health Care and Solvay are not dissimilar to those in large companies. Successful people exhibit behaviours such as:
- Desire for success
- Goal orientation
- Taking responsibility
- Enjoy influencing people
- Accountability for action
- Wanting to be the best
- Entrepreneurial spirit
All of these behaviours support, foster, and nurture high levels of accountability, autonomy, and independence which appear to motivate and reward individuals in small to medium sized companies. These characteristics mean that successful people are automatically more suited to working in a smaller company because their high levels of accountability are more easily noticed and therefore rewarded. The differences felt by representatives working in the smaller sector are that they retain individualism, are more easily recognised by customers and can readily measure their success through their own individual sales figures. To further investigate this we asked representatives from small to medium sized companies about their thoughts on accountability and autonomy.
Keith Burston worked for Pharmaceutical giant, now GSK (Glaxo Smith Kline) for 22 years and left to join small to medium size company, Napp Pharma. He had this to tell us about accountability and autonomy. “Napp is interested in delivering the bottom line and providing you with the support and flexibility to do that. You can decide which GP’s to see and who is going to drive your business and that provides the scope to go after the real business. It feels good to have the ability to run your territories like your own franchise and ultimately if the business doesn’t come in, you’re accountable, and there is no one to blame. You have to conscientious, and at the end of the day… autonomy and accountability come with responsibility. It has been amazing to me the change in me and my business. This ability to run my own business has re-energised me and the change has been the best decision for me and my career.” Foster and supporting high levels of independence and autonomy can impact on all areas of a Medical Representatives career, including their own development and career progression. Career development pathways have been described as highly focused, well-defined, and fast moving in a small and medium size companies. Career progression also appears more rapid for those successful people demonstrating a desire for success and outstanding sale performance.
David Southern, Marketing Manager Napp Pharmaceuticals, began as representative in the field for 18 months, then spent six months as a Health Service Manager, and presently works in head office as a marketing manager. He told us: “Everyone knows everyone in a small company from marketing to production. This can be a real advantage when looking at career opportunities and development. Progression can be very fast and seems to be moving and developing continuously. My career has been driven by the interests I have, not a set path, and I am encouraged to experience opportunities along the way. I have the opportunity in a small company to experience and am involved in every area of the business, internal and external. It provides me with a through understanding of the whole business, not just marketing.”
David Southern carries on explain how autonomy can impact and change the business. “In smaller companies there is a tight relationship to the business or emotional attachment to the business, you are not just a number, you are a person and there is no anonymity whatsoever. However, it provides a great challenge and much broader working experience in all areas of the business.”
Steve Smith Primary Care Account Manager at Schering Health Care had this to say about his level of autonomy, “We are masters of our own trade, following our ideas and running a territory as our own business. Our thought processes become clear as we plan meticulously, and we are allowed to take time to concentrate and fine tune the details leading to high success. We have the luxury to cherry pick who we want to work with to drive our business. This is a small organisation so there is no room for error. We cannot afford mistakes.” These behaviours that characterise successful people are the same, regardless of the size of company, but the question remains . . . will they be recognised and highlighted in a large matrix managed entity? Steve joined the industry 6 years ago from 10 years in grocery retailing and finds he gets more recognition for his work. “I am lucky in that I can speak to the directors about a project and feel confident approaching them. You can expect a quick turn around on approval for projects. It is a great feeling that within a small organisation, you can speak to the decision makers just by picking up the phone and speaking to them directly. It feels good to have the CEO give you a pat on the back and tell you to your face that was a job well done.”
Keith Burston, Napp Pharmaceutical, comments having worked for GSK twenty- plus years and now Napp for two and half. “You have the choice, you can be a big fish in a small pond or small fish in a big pond. I know where I am the happiest and feel I get the recognition for hard work and sales success.” It would seem then, that autonomy and accountability are very much alive and kicking in small to medium sized companies, and seem to be the main contributor to the overall job satisfaction for the representatives we spoke to. The only variable that remains to be investigated is company culture. How does company culture motivate people? How do the representatives feel within that company culture? Does the company culture truly encourage and reward success, in conjunction with a healthy work/life balance?
Culture will be the topic in next month’s final article in the series. We will to looking in depth, at company culture, and the differences in culture amongst 5 small to medium sized companies.